How to Spot a Bad Freelance Client 3

How to Spot a Bad Freelance ClientThere’s nothing more exciting, especially to a newbie freelancer, than securing a new client. Heck, even seasoned freelancers with plenty of projects under their belts still feel a thrill when a new business relationship is secured.

That said, freelance relationships—just like relationships in general—are not always the smooth, sunny road we hope they’ll be. Some clients can turn out to be such a disaster you find yourself venting to friends over drinks and wondering how you can “dump” them once and for all.

So, to save you the drama of a freelance relationship gone bad, I’d like to share with you some of the red flags that signal straight off the bat that a new freelance client will wind up being more trouble than they’re worth. Heed these warning signs well—or else.

They’re Shaky on the Details

Communication is essential when it comes to making a client happy—and being happy with them yourself. You need to know exactly what they expect from you, how much you’ll be paid, and what timeframe you’re working with. These are basic, nuts-and-bolts pieces of information that every new client you take on should provide you with. (As a matter of fact, things like project scope, cost, and deadlines ought to be clearly delineated in the project agreement you should be having them sign before you start working).

It’s a sign of bad things to come if a new client dances around the details. If they’re not sure how long a project will take, that’s one thing. You can always build that into your project agreement by giving an initial estimate and including a clause for deadline extensions (and the extra costs that come with it) should things wind up taking longer than both of you expected. But if they simply won’t commit, seem wishy-washy, or keep coming up with reasons why they’re not giving you a straight answer, run for the hills. You deserve a client who will be upfront with you.

They Won’t Stop Talking

There’s also such a thing as a client who’s too communicative. You open your inbox to find 20 new emails from them in the span of half an hour. They chew your ear off for an hour on the phone about all the fantastic new projects they’ll have lined up for you soon—but nothing ever comes of it. Or, rather than giving you concise, specific instructions, they mind-dump all of their half-formed thoughts onto you and expect you to perform a magic trick by turning them into the perfect product.

Clients who talk too much tend to be suffering from one of two maladies: Either they don’t really know what they want (which makes it awful hard to do your work well), or they’re the type who are always super-excited about brand new ideas but have an inability to execute. Either way, you’ll spend a lot of time trying to decode their thoughts to little success. It’s best to move on.

They Always Have an Excuse

Every project they give you starts with a longwinded story about how busy they are and the million reasons why they need a turnaround ASAP because of circumstances beyond their control. They are always harried, always overwhelmed, and you wind up dealing with the aftermath.

This client may have bitten off way more than they can chew, or they may have totally unrealistic ideas when it comes to how long work actually takes to complete. But their failure to plan properly isn’t your responsibility, and their every emergency doesn’t have to be your emergency. You manage your time and your multiple projects professionally, and if they can’t do the same, you shouldn’t have to be at their beck and call every time something hits the fan.

You Just Have a Bad Feeling

There’s something to be said for trusting your gut, in business and in life. Sometimes, you can’t quite put your finger on why a person or a relationship feels “off,” but it keeps nagging at you. If you persistently have the feeling that a client’s not being honest with you, or you always feel stressed out and anxious when dealing with them, you owe it to yourself to listen to that feeling and find clients who make you feel satisfied and valued. They are out there, and when you drop a bad client, it makes more room in your schedule to find the good ones.

What other warning signs have you come across in your freelance career? 

  • Glenroy Carty

    Spot on. That has been my experience.

  • vincenzo de vera

    Yes Kelly is right; looking back on some projects who eventually failed, most of the signs stated by her where there to see since the first steps. I unfortunately did not (or didn’t want to ?) recognize them at the moment but only later on when the project misfired and still better now after Kelly’s blog!

    • bplans

      Hopefully in the future you will be able to save yourself time and effort by recognizing a problem client before you get started!

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About the Author Kelly Gurnett is the Managing Editor of Career Attraction, Editor-in-Chief of CareerMeh, Assistant Editor of Brazen Life, and runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Read more »

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